Ways to Communicate if Mom or Dad Have Dementia
Your Approach Sets the Tone
- Do an environmental scan as you enter the room. What emotional vibes do you feel?
- Treat the person with respect and dignity
- Kindness, compassion, patience and reassurance are key
- Think about how you are presenting yourself.
- Try a calm, gentle, matter of fact approach
- Use humor, gentle cajoling and cheerfulness
- Approach slowly and from the front. Do not surprise the person
- Pay attention to your tone of voice and body language
- Remember to respond to feelings rather than words or behavior
When you Speak
- Begin your conversations with orienting information. Identify yourself and address the person by his/her name.
- Look directly at the person and make sure you have their attention
- Be at eye level
- Gentle touch can be very effective
- Keep the pitch of your voice low and do not shout
- Speak slowly and say words clearly
- Use short simple sentences
- Avoid pronouns and confusing expressions.
- Use concrete terms and familiar words
- Try not to quiz
- Ask one question at a time
- Ask simple questions that require a choice of “YES “ or “NO”
- Give one step directions
- Allow plenty of time for comprehension
- Use repetition and reminders
- Write things down afterwards.
When You are Having Trouble Understanding the Person
- Listen carefully to what the person is trying to say
- Try to focus on a word or phrase that makes sense
- Ask person to point or demonstrate what she is trying to say
- Offer a guess as to what he/she is trying to say.
- Respond to the emotional tone of what the person is trying to say
- Ask family or colleagues about the possible meaning of words
- Be patient and calm
If Conversations or Activities are not Working
- Give the person a hug and change the subject
- Try distraction to a different task or activity: Do something relaxing and known to be enjoyable
- Accept the blame when something goes wrong
- Leave the room before getting into a confrontation.
Things NOT to do
- Do not argue
- Do not criticize or say person is wrong or incorrect
- Do not remind person of things that he/she forgot
- Do not ask a lot of questions that rely on a good memory
- Do not talk about the person as if he/she is not there
- Do not take things personally
- Provide verbal cues (using your best communication skills)
- Provide written cues
- Use reminder notes
- If person receives a phone call, after the call ask who called and help person write a reminder note
- Keep a calendar: Where it can be seen and large enough to read.
- Have a large clock in the room. Some newer clocks have the day and date.
- Keep photos, especially of family and other important people
- Keep things in the same place as much as possible
- Alzheimer’s Association education materials
- Understanding Difficult Behaviors by Anne Robinson, Beth Spencer and Laurie White.
- Years of experience of Darby Duke RN, BSN,PHN, CCM and Pat Goehner MSN